Spring football is a time for optimism everywhere in college football, but nowhere is the optimism higher than in Columbus, OH, where fans are eager to see what Urban Meyer cooked up in his first spring on the job. Excitement is so high, that there have already been 54,000 tickets sold (yes, sold) for Saturday’s Scarlet and Gray game, meaning Meyer and company won’t play to an empty house.
So what should you watch out for Saturday when the Buckeyes take the field? Let’s investigate
1. Will we learn anything about Braxton Miller we didn’t already know?
From the beginning, it was obvious that there wasn’t a single player that would benefit more from the transition from the Jim Tressel/Luke Fickell pro-style offense to Meyer’s spread scheme than Miller. And so far, the reports on the sophomore from Huber Heights, OH are through the roof. He’s throwing the ball well, he’s running the ball well, and basically doing everything Ohio State fans hoped for when it was announced that Meyer was coming to town.
As for Saturday, whether anyone actually gets to see those skills on full display will be another story all together. Meyer has already said that the scrimmage will be non-contact for his quarterbacks, and with the two teams divided up (the coaches held a draft, as opposed to putting the first team offense against the first team defense), many of the skill position players and offensive linemen that Miller will count on in the fall, will actually be playing for the other team Saturday.
Expect Miller to have a huge sophomore year. Just don’t expect to see much on Saturday.
2. Will the defense be ahead of the offense?
The short answer is that it better be. While on offense is everyone is adjusting to the changes that Meyer brings, defensively, it should be pretty much business as usual in Columbus. Fickell is back after his one-year interim gig, and from a scheme standpoint, it doesn’t seem like all that much has changed.
As for the personnel, well, there is a lot more experience returning on the defensive side of the ball as well. The linbacking corps of Etienne Sabino, Storm Klein and the emerging Ryan Shazier might be the best in the Big Ten, and the defensive line will be led by John Simon, who’s a stud in his own right (more on him coming). Not to mention that most of the secondary is back as well, with guys like Christian Bryant and Travis Howard returning after big seasons in 2012.
Again, the rosters will be split up Saturday, making it tough to truly gauge where both the offense and defense are actually at. Still, it’d be shocking if the defense didn’t dominate.
3. How good can John Simon Be?
Read any reports from the spring, and it’s clear that defensive lineman John Simon has been far and away the Buckeyes best player during practice. What’s scarier is that Simon was plenty good last year too, leading Ohio State in tackles for loss (16) and sacks with seven.
So how good can Simon be?
Well, given that he was already first team All-Big Ten last year, a very real possibility exists that he could be a first team All-American this year.
4. Have Playmakers Emerged on Offense?
Ah yes, we’re back to the offense, and back to the biggest question Meyer faced when he came to Columbus: Are there any actual playmakers on this roster? We all know that Percy Harvin ain’t walking through that door. But heck, is there even a Louis Murphy or Jeff Demps there either?
The early returns seem to indicate that the best bet might be Corey Brown. Given how little Ohio State threw the ball last year, it’s hard to gauge how good, or not good Brown might be. Still, he finished last year fourth on the team with 11 catches, for an average of 13 yards per catch.
Most importantly, at 5’11 and just around 185 lbs., Brown is built like a Meyer wide receiver. We all know Meyer has a preference for shorter, quicker guys (Harvin himself is listed at a near identical size to Brown), as opposed to taller, leaner guys who might’ve been more of an appropriate fit in the pro-style offense that Jim Tressel employed.
Regardless, whether it’s Brown, Jordan Hall or some yet unidentified player nobody knows, somebody needs to step up for the Buckeyes. If their offense can’t improve on last year, they will be in big trouble.
5. Could anything happen that would actually be genuine cause for concern with Buckeyes fans?
Short of a catastrophic injury to Miller, it’s hard to imagine anything.
The truth is, getting any new coach is like the beginning of a relationship with a girl: Everything is fresh and fun, and your leash is much longer than it might be a year down the road. And getting Urban Meyer as your next head coach? Crap, that’s like waking up one day and realizing that you’re dating a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model. It simply doesn’t get better than that.
And really, after talking to Ohio State fans this off-season, they seem to understand that as exciting as Meyer is, this is all still a process. There are still a lot of adjustments to be made, and still huge holes in the depth chart. Some of that will be fixed when a monster recruiting class comes to school this summer, and some of it won’t, and having a bowl ban for the 2012 season certainly doesn’t make things easier.
Still, Urban is in town, and times are changing.
It’s hard to imagine many Ohio State fans leaving the Horseshoe disappointed on Saturday.
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